One way of teaching grammar

This was due to be featured in my last post on the film “Life of Brian”. In fact, the idea of that post itself was partly based on my intention to showcase this dialogue. But then I decided it needs to be there by itself – to demonstrate an infallible method, though slightly extreme, of teaching and ensuring correct grammar.

Though given the abyssmal level of indifference to purity of language in this benighted age, I can just remember the days when it was not so and people took it more seriously. I recall reading somewhere about how Menander and Dionysius (I hope I remember the names correctly), otherwise good friends, would not speak to each other for months after disagreeing on a point of syntax, or how, in a later age and clime, Otho and Vitellius argued for a fortnight over the correct vocative of ‘ego’ and in the end attacked each other with sharp weapons. However, those days are, unfortunately, long past, though there are some of those who still recall them with some wistfulness.

But as you read the extract below, do spare a thought how polished your language would have been if you had to contend with a teacher like this Centurion. The background for this scene can be found in the post before this, if you are interested.

[Brian is writing graffiti on the palace wall. The Centurion catches him in the act]
Centurion: What’s this, then? “Romanes eunt domus”? People called Romanes, they go, the house?
Brian: It says, “Romans go home. ”
Centurion: No it doesn’t ! What’s the latin for “Roman”? Come on, come on !
Brian: Er, “Romanus” !
Centurion: Vocative plural of “Romanus” is?
Brian: Er, er, “Romani” !
Centurion: [Writes “Romani” over Brian’s graffiti] “Eunt”? What is “eunt”? Conjugate the verb, “to go” !
Brian: Er, “Ire”. Er, “eo”, “is”, “it”, “imus”, “itis”, “eunt”.
Centurion: So, “eunt” is…?
Brian: Third person plural present indicative, “they go”.
Centurion: But, “Romans, go home” is an order. So you must use…?
[He twists Brian’s ear]
Brian: Aaagh ! The imperative !
Centurion: Which is…?
Brian: Aaaagh ! Er, er, “i” !
Centurion: How many Romans?
Brian: Aaaaagh ! Plural, plural, er, “ite” !
Centurion: [Writes “ite”] “Domus”? Nominative? “Go home” is motion towards, isn’t it?
Brian: Dative !
[the Centurion holds a sword to his throat]
Brian: Aaagh ! Not the dative, not the dative ! Er, er, accusative, “Domum” !
Centurion: But “Domus” takes the locative, which is…?
Brian: Er, “Domum” !
Centurion: [Writes “Domum”] Understand? Now, write it out a hundred times.
Brian: Yes sir. Thank you, sir. Hail Caesar, sir.
Centurion: Hail Caesar ! And if it’s not done by sunrise, I’ll cut your b**** off.

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